Sog.: dal romanzo omonimo di Roy Chanslor. Scen.: Philip Yordan. F.: Harry Stradling. M.: Richard L. Van Enger. Scgf.: James Sullivan. Mus.: Victor Young, Peggy Lee. Int.: Joan Crawford (Vienna), Sterling Hayden (Johnny Guitar), Mercedes McCambridge (Emma Small), Scott Brady (Dancin’ Kid), Ward Bond (John McIvers), Ben Cooper (Turkey Ralston), Ernest Borgnine (Bart Lonergan), John Carradine (Old Tom). Prod.: Herbert J. Yates per Republic Pictures Corp. DCP. D.: 109’. Col.
As Peggy Lee’s theme song Johnny Guitar played during the last lingering shots of the brand new Western, the audience left their seats in a state of confusion and disorientation. They had just seen an unclassifiable film.
Nicholas Ray stated that Johnny Guitar broke every rule of the western, and this happened during what was the genre’s greatest decade; the Western seemed to cover everything, or at least everything that cinematic means could express. The baroque style and the weird glow of Johnny Guitar stood out from all the rest. The production company stood out because it was marginal, and it is hard to imagine Johnny Guitar being produced anywhere other than at Republic Pictures.
Johnny Guitar was barely noticed in the USA, whereas in France it was regarded as a quintessential movie by a director about to achieve legendary status. Jean-Luc Godard said that Johnny Guitar’s imperfections made it the most beautiful film in the world. Jacques Rivette focused on Ray’s sunset obsession, his vision of solitude and maladjustment in a vortex of violence. For François Truffaut, Johnny Guitar was a Western dream, a fairy-tale enhanced by bizarre Trucolor.
In all its unruliness Johnny Guitar represents a summation of Nicholas Ray’s filmography. It is a ‘political’ reading of its time, an ‘existential’ western, an experimental colour film, a dazzlingly stylized melodramatic genre piece (with all the hallmarks of a completely willful opus), a crazy comedy about men – yet the true star is a woman.
A surprising balance is achieved in a style that uses Western paraphernalia sparingly and suggestively while the contemporary Cold War era is portrayed in a full-blown, satirically controlled vision. An organic, poetic whole emerges from disparate materials.
Peter von Bagh, in Elämää suuremmat elokuvat II [Films Bigger Than Life II], Otava 1993, edited by Antti Alanen